Pro-Russian voices legitimised in the context of Romanian-Ukrainian tensions on minorities in Bukovina

Case study: Perceptions and context for the self-victimising declarations of a pro-Kremlin Romanian cleric from Ukraine

February 1, 2023

In Romania, the attitude towards the Romanian minority in Ukraine has been historically a vulnerability to pro-Kremlin propaganda. Nationalist and pro-Kremlin voices argue that Ukraine is systematically hostile towards the Romanian minority, continuing the policies of Soviet times. In that, they exaggerate the real issues that do exist in Ukraine, as well as positions taken by Romanian diplomacy in its efforts to promote the rights of the Romanian diaspora. The result is an overlap between mainstream and radical positions, which is exploited by radical voices to gain legitimacy.

This vulnerability became prominent after the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 but the state, while supportive of Ukraine, has taken no specific steps to counter propaganda on this issue or to address this vulnerability. This was seen in the recent spat on the new lawon minorities in Ukraine, where official and radical positions were almost indistinguishable .

In this report we show how the statements of a pro-Kremlin, Romanian-ethnic bishop in Ukraine were instrumentalised to support the radical pro-Russian narrative about the status of Romanian ethnics in Ukraine. Taking advantage of the limited knowledge that Romanians have on the issue, Bishop Jar presented himself as a mainstream voice speaking for the Romanians in Ukraine. In this effort he was supported uncritically by both mainstream/greyzone and extremist channels.

Going more in depth, we argue that the identity of the Romanian-speakers in Ukraine is uniquely complex, due to overlapping religious and ethnic identities as well as political options. These complexities are exploited both by mainstream politicians and the radical/ pro-Russian propaganda, through oversimplifying narratives and misrepresentation.

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